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Dummies guide to low-budget screen construction (LONG w/pics)  

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
DIY 52x92 16:9 Blackout material screen (option for grey screen):

After searching this forum for a while I found a number of people who had built their own screen and grey screen. However, I couldn't find much in the way of pictures or a step by step guide to constructing such a thing and I was a little frustrated. So I took the plunge myself to see just how hard it was (it isn't) and to see if I could actually do it. Here is some information and pics that I hope might help the next person coming along a little more.

First, I would like to say there is no substitute for a retail screen. It doesn't take long to look through these forums and see the MANY happy customers of Stewart's Greyhawk and Da-lite's Hi contrast screens. However, for those individuals who just don't have a budget for such a screen or the need for perhaps a temporary screen this is a good way to go. Total amount for the following screen cost me about $35.

I went into this project just to see basically if I could do it. There was hardly no attention to detail (except maybe for the stapling and stretching) and just went in head first. Every area of this screen can be improved on I am sure.

Home Depot has all the materials and tools you need for the frame. I used Blackout material from a fabric store for the screen itself. I don't have a mitre saw so I had to figure out a way around this as well. Basic tools you will need are:

1. Staple gun (highly recommend the Black and Decker power shot)
2. Measuring tape
3. Drill (phillips bit is helpful)
4. Hand saw

Basic components you will need to buy at Home Depot:

1. Blackout material from a fabric store. There are a number of people who have been using the Blackout material from Jo-ann fabrics. I bought a 54x100 piece of the only blackout material Jo-ann fabrics had and then I went to Hancock fabrics and bought their blackout material as well. The Hancock fabrics' blackout was a much more vibrant white so I chose to use it and couldn't be happier. So shopping around for the best blackout material you can find might not be a bad idea.

2. 2 pieces of 1x2, 8ft. wood. Some like pine. I think I chose Douglas fir because I simply couldn't find the pine in Home Depot (thus the title of this post "dummies" http://www.avsforum.com/ubb/smile.gif ). The douglas fir was light and rigid. It worked perfectly and was like $2.67 a piece. Check for straightness.

3. 3 pieces of 1x2, 6ft. wood.
4. 2 3" Tee plates
5. 4 3/4" corner plates
6. 28 #8 x 1/2" wood screws
7. 6 #8 x 3/4" wood screws
8. 6 washers (many sizes will do, they just need to fit a #8 screw)


1. Begin by cutting your wood the proper distances. The two 8 foot pieces should extend the full length of your screen, thus mine were cut to 92". The other 3 6 foot pieces need to be cut keeping in mind the top and bottom pieces of wood will make up some of the distance. I think I cut each of mine at 49 1/4" YMMV. This made the total height of the screen come out exactly at 52".

2. Lay all the pieces down on the ground to get a good idea what your frame will look like. Then take one of the corner brackets and lay it on one of the corners and drill pilot holes in the wood to ensure no splitting will occur. Then simply drill or screw in the 6 #8 x 1/2" wood screws. You want the wood to be touching but if it doesn't don't worry about it. I screwed in one of my corner brackets and this caused the wood to move some. It didn't hurt the final product. You should now have one corner of screen frame completed.

3. Do the remaining 3 corners as described in 2.

4. Now that you have your outside frame you need to add a brace in the middle. So place your remaining piece of wood directly in the middle and place the tee plates on the wood and drill your pilot holes.

5. Before you screw in the tee plates make sure to place 3 washers under the TOP part of the T on the tee plate. Do not use washers on the 2 holes on the bottom part of the T. This lifts the brace up just a bit from the screen so in case your wood isn't perfectly straight your brace won't be touching the screen. You don't want your brace touching the screen fabric at all or you will see it on the resulting picture.

6. Once you screw in the tee plates your frame is basically done. I would suggest going over the wood with some light sanding. This gets off the particles which might be present from the pilot holes and may show up when the fabric is tensioned against them.

7. Now for adding the fabric. This is what worried me the most but it came out perfect. The procedure you will need to use it outlined on the following web site:


You do NOT need canvas pliers. Just use a lot of pulling with your arms and hands and staple accordingly.

8. Once you are done stretching and stapling simply cut off the excess. Using 1x2's makes this extremely light and I put two nails on the wall and hung it like picture frame!

CONCLUSION: The end result was stunning. I couldn't believe how perfectly flat it came out. The blackout material worked greated and I couldn't be happier. If you are interested in painting this screen grey as I have done you might want to look here for some paint options:


The images below will give you a much better idea of the screen and of course masking could be added but I built this screen for really only test purposes. I have just been trying out different shades of grey to see which I like best. The results of that will be in another post http://www.avsforum.com/ubb/smile.gif I hope this posts helps somebody out there and feel free to e-mail if you have specific questions.


***EDIT: I have gotten quite a few requests to put up some new pics since the old ones were being hosted by photopoint and they decided to pull the plug on free subscriptions. I am in the process of moving so it wasn't a big deal to take a few shots. However, they didn't turn out very good due to the low light. I will try to post some better ones another time but for now I think this helps at least get the point across. Again, if you have any questions feel free to send an e-mail.


[This message has been edited by JP (edited 09-01-2001).]
post #2 of 14
Great Post.

post #3 of 14

Thank you for the excellent post. Your instructions are well written. This is exactly what I was looking for to aid in my own screen construction.

Your post is very much appreciated.


"Of Course I'm at home. I'm un-cool."
post #4 of 14
Thanks very much for the great post! I was just about to take such a project on, and I had no idea what I was doing. Now I do, thanks to you!
post #5 of 14
Thanks so much for the construction info... I am right now in the process of building a screen. So I greatly appreciate you construction info. this makes things a whole lot simpler! Your suggestion of the corner pieces and tees is especially pertinent since I was contemplating how I was going to do the same thing with my screen design... once again, Thanks!!

post #6 of 14
AWESOME post, and one that I will definitely be considering as I contemplate the move to an FP system. Just out of curiosity, it looks like you have a retail pull-down screen as well. What type of screen is that and how does it compare to your DIY version?
post #7 of 14
Thread Starter 
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by ggolamco:
Just out of curiosity, it looks like you have a retail pull-down screen as well. What type of screen is that and how does it compare to your DIY version?</font>
That is a Da-lite Model B 100" with the video spectra (1.5 gain) fabric. It is a pull-down and as with most pull-downs it exhibits waves in the screen. I like the fabric but if given a choice I would take the DIY screen every time just for the fact that it's perfectly flat. I also have a motorized 120" Stewart screen that was somewhat damaged that I bought used. I have only used it a few times and keep it just in case I ever need it. I wanted a motorized screen for years just because of the effect but I never had the budget. This one came along that was too good to pass up. It's funny but now I like the fact that the DIY screen is just so darn light and easy to take down if I need to move or something. I guess I am getting more lazy as I get older. I used to love spending the weekend installing a ceiling mount 150 pound crt with a 100 pound motorized screen. Now with all my back problems I can't tell you how refreshing it is to have an 8 pound projector and a 10 pound screen http://www.avsforum.com/ubb/smile.gif
post #8 of 14
This and the other thread are GREEAAT!! You've really taken the mystery out of this. May I ask several questions?

You took the JoAnn blackout material and then painted on it directly? Did the material absorb the paint evenly? Have you thought about the possibility of using spray can paint, flat gray?

Could one expand slightly on this theme and incorporate black borders around the perimeter? I am thinking of using a digital projector and the general consensus seems to be black borders are a good idea.

The Nec projector was LCD, yes? That screen shot from Boiler Room was really impressive! Did it really look that good?

Have you thought about doing this on masonite rather than fabric? It would seem to me the effect would be similar once you paint it? But maybe not if the pores of the fabric are still somewhat open.

You may really be on to something here. The new Sanyo XP21N, which is currently at the top of my list, requires a seriously gray screen. Testers who are working with it suggest gains in the 0.6 range might be right for this very bright projector.

Again, JP, thanks for some really excellent work here. You de man!

post #9 of 14
Thread Starter 
Originally posted by DanHouck:

You took the JoAnn blackout material and then painted on it directly?

Hey Dan! Actually I didn't use Joann's blackout material because I found that Hancock Fabrics blackout material was actually a brighter white. It looks like the Joann's blackout material might have a hint of orange in it or something. The difference isn't dramatic but if you are going to paint it grey anyway I doubt it really matters.

Did the material absorb the paint evenly?

Pretty much. If you don't pour the paint directly on the screen I think you will be fine http://www.avsforum.com/ubb/smile.gif Something I would HIGHLY recommend is leaving the screen flat when applying the paint and when it is drying. It will drip down if your coat is too thick but if you leave it flat I am sure it will eventually dry just fine in case your put a coat on that is too thick.

Have you thought about the possibility of using spray can paint, flat gray?

Not really, simply because I haven't heard anyone else try it with good results (actually I haven't heard anyone try it at all). I would think there is a good reason why you wouldn't want to use spray paint but I don't know what it is. As you can see I know nothing about paint.

Could one expand slightly on this theme and incorporate black borders around the perimeter?

I didn't give it much thought since this screen was only going to be used for test purposes but now of course I wish I would have figured out an easy effective way to do this. The best ideas I can come up with (which aren't even that great) are to maybe add molding to the outside. Of course we are talking about more wood here and thus more weight which could cause a problem but I think it would be pretty cool to have a decorative molding border as the masking to your screen. Best case scenario would be you would see it when all the lights are on and it would disappear during the movie. I am not sure if this is possible because I bet you need a fabric material to "trap" light. Just wood painted black would still reflect some light I bet. Of course you could always buy some molding and then perhaps wrap it with masking material and then attach it to the screen (just a thought, thinking out loud here). The biggest problem as I see it is ensuring perfectly straight masking. It would bug the heck out of me to not have my masking perfect. Sorry I couldn't be of more help here.

The Nec projector was LCD, yes? That screen shot from Boiler Room was really impressive! Did it really look that good?

It actually looked better than what that screenshot might lead you to believe. Of course this comes with a caveat. That was a very bright scene and most bright scenes looked very good. I must be honest and tell you not all the pictures I took turned out that good. NEC makes good projectors but at this price range you are going to have trade-offs and thus why we are trying band-aids like grey screens to help alleviate the problems.

You may really be on to something here. The new Sanyo XP21N, which is currently at the top of my list, requires a seriously gray screen. Testers who are working with it suggest gains in the 0.6 range might be right for this very bright projector.

Dan, from what I have read that is one heck of a projector. You might want to layer your screen with lead for fear of burning a hole through your house with that thing http://www.avsforum.com/ubb/smile.gif

Take care.
post #10 of 14
When evaluating the XP21, we used the case of the Avia DVD as a light block. When we had finished, I noted that the plastic had melted a bit where the beam hit the plastic.

Ken Elliott
post #11 of 14
Great instructions. I was lazy and bought a long dowell which I stapled the blackout material to. I then put 2 small hooks into my ceiling where they would grab the studs. I got two small rings at the hardware store (I don't really know what their intended purpose is-they are just stainless steel circles apparently,) and placed the rings over the hooks. I then put the dowell through the rings so the dowell was supported at both ends. To help keep the material stretched out I stapled the bottom to a piece of thin floor molding that matches the dowell color nicely. My only regret is that I could have been more careful when I stapled the bottom as there are some wrinkles in the material although usually not noticeable while being projected upon. The cost was also around $35-40.
post #12 of 14
JP, great post. Thanks for the info.

I'll be building something like this shortly to use with my JVC G11 DILA.

For a long treatise on the subject of DIY screens, see this thread: http://www.avsforum.com/ubb/Forum9/HTML/000183.html. KBK, referenced many times, is creating the "perfect" paint and is at http://www.goosystems.com/.


[This message has been edited by Max Spivak (edited 04-18-2001).]
post #13 of 14
Dan -
You really don't want to use spraypaint. I played around with the idea of putting a silver coat behind a white coat with the idea that the light comes though the white, then the silver reflects the light (strongly) into the white which again diffuses it resulting in pretty high brightness but no hotspotting. This *idea* looks pretty promising.

Anyway, I wanted an easy way to put two different paints down and therefore chose spraypaint. The spraypaint is next to impossible to put down a consistent layer. Despite major efforts to keep it consistent and eventual efforts to physically rub the screen to make up for the inconsistencies my efforts were never completely effective. The screen was about as blotchy as is imaginable. I think that in the end that the little nozels on the spraypaint are not up to the job of being consistent, and the quality of the paint is unknown. Even if you were to buy a professional spraypainting setup there is a reason why you pay so much to get your car repainted - it does take a great deal of skill to use even the most appropriate tools.

The nice thing about traditional paint is that if done on a flat, horizontal surface with a suffieiently watery paint gravity will eventually leave a smooth flat surface.
post #14 of 14
Thread Starter 
bump due to all the e-mails I have been receiving on this topic
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